Sweeney Todd

Date 18th March 2017
Society Sounds Musical Theatre Company
Venue Devonport Playhouse
Type of Production Musical
Director Amanda Paddison
Musical Director Marcus Alleyne

Report

Author: Kathy West

Playhouse stage has a raised upstage area which can present challenges to the Director and Set Designer, but it does lend itself nicely to the composite set necessary to keep this show moving at a good pace. The forestage extensions left and right were used for the asylum and Judge's house respectively, with working doors. Each had a window from which Johanna could sing 'Green Finch and Linnet Bird' in Act 1, and to mirror this when she was at the asylum window, having exchanged one 'prison' for another.

Mrs Lovett's bakery was placed downstage left with Sweeney's Barber shop above it, connected by a short flight of stairs. This platform allowed the use of the 'chute' for the bodies to drop down after Sweeney had gone about his wicked business of murder. The chair itself looked very authentic and was operated well by Sweeney.

This production was greatly enhanced by some atmospheric lighting. The Barber shop was well isolated by light and I liked the spotlight on the chair at the end of the show. The red light as Mrs Lovett perished in the oven was very effective.

There had obviously been a lot of hard work by the actors, perfecting such difficult songs, and the musical accompaniment came from an excellent orchestra. The lack of amplification of the actors' voices meant that often we were not able to fully appreciate the complex harmonies or the witty Sondheim lyrics, and therefore at times the story-telling was lost.

There were a few issues with pace at times in Act 1, but I think this was mostly due to the structure of the show. It can be difficult to push the pace when everything is sung, as the speed of delivery is governed by the songs themselves. Also Act 1 is a long act. Possibly this could have been helped by faster or more energetic entrances? The pace in Act 2 was excellent, as Sweeney's world started to unravel before our eyes, and we were really swept along by the story.

There was some excellent ensemble work, in particular in the asylum scene which was very realistic and atmospheric. I liked the way the chorus were used to mask the bringing on of the 'bodies' of the Judge and the Beggar Woman. The Principals worked well as a team. There was a good contrast between Sweeney's quiet brooding demeanour and Mrs Lovett's more frantic, nervous energy which brought real interest to their scenes. Anthony was very sympathetically played, and it was easy to believe in the love affair between him and Johanna, despite the speed with which the script requires them to fall in love! The Judge was suitably sleazy and formed a good partnership with the Beadle.

I understand that there were some late cast changes in this show, but I have to say that I would not have known this if I had not been told, as it was a very accomplished and polished production. Congratulations on an excellent ensemble show.